The number of farmers markets across the state have continued to grow over the last decade, with more than 400 stretching from Allegany to Albany to help older Americans afford the produce they need to a lead a healthier lifestyle.
Elsie Livermore, 82, of Sinclairville enjoys spending part of her summers visiting area farmers markets like the one behind the Senior Citizens Center in Dunkirk.
There, Elsie picked up some peaches and an eggplant for her Italian caponata recipe.
"Sometimes in the stores you can't get it looking like this does, and I'm just glad they got this available," said Elsie. "This is the farmers market coupon. I have $20 worth."
Elsie is one of thousands of older Americans across the state who participate in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and use the coupons in exchange for fresh fruits and vegetables.
While some get their coupons at the site, others like Elsie got hers ahead of time.
Here’s how the process works.
Prior to the distribution, each Office for Aging Services get the materials from the state and begins building the coupon booklets.
Each one includes five $4 coupons, designed primarily for older adults over the age of 60 who are income eligible.
"To increase their consumption of produce,” said Lacey Wilson, Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services nutrition and wellness coordinator. “And it also of course supports our local growers. No matter what county you're in, you should be able to get a hold of your local Office for Aging and they would be able to get you the information on how to get your own coupon booklet.”
Once the booklets are complete, Lacey and her staff drive them to various locations across the county, like the Senior Center in Sinclairville — which is where Elsie was able to get hers.
She was one of many seniors who lined up and filled out the eligibility forms, complete with a list of the market locations.
"I think it’s very important,” said Elsie. “Many of us don't have the wherewithal to buy fresh stuff. And if we've got the coupons, that helps. They're using the farmers in our area to distribute this.”
Like Fred Farms out of Dunkirk, one of many that not only have hundreds of acres of crops, but also start planting in their greenhouses in March to get ready for the local markets.
It’s a place where those like Elsie can catch up with old friends and continue to grow relationships.
"We just don't see these people unless we do run into them,” said Elsie. “At a wedding, a funeral or the farmers market. So, it's great.”
Elsie also encourages others to sign up and take advantage of the program.
"Seniors mostly, because it's hard for us to get to the store sometimes,” said Elsie. “But anybody could just benefit by this.”
And when she's all done shopping, it's back to Sinclairville to get a jump on the eggplant caponata.
The Farmers Market Nutrition Program runs until November 30. State nutrition leaders say most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories and provide essential nutrients and dietary fiber. They may also play a role in preventing certain chronic diseases.